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Walt Whitman (LIVES AND LEGACIES SERIES LALS C) Hardcover – 10 Jun 2004


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"Walt Whitman found countless sources for his poetry in the astonishingly vigorous culture—high, middle, and low—of his day. No other living scholar is better equipped than David S. Reynolds to illuminate this rich web of connections. In this book, Reynolds takes the reader on a lightning tour of Whitman's world, from grand opera, phrenology, and political oratory to Bowery Boy fashions and the free love movement." —Michael Moon, Johns Hopkins University, author of Disseminating Whitman

"This highly readable introduction to America's greatest poet by one of his most knowledgeable and insightful biographers is a useful point of entry into Walt Whitman's work and the world that shaped it such important ways." —Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Stanford University, author of From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America

"In Walt Whitman, David Reynolds has distilled the key findings of his encyclopedic Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography and now makes Whitman's cultural life—and his transformation of that life into art—accessible to readers at all levels. Every page contains suggestions, discoveries, and insights that will send students back to Whitman's poetry with renewed enthusiasm. This is an innovative and illuminating introduction to Whitman and his work." —Ed Folsom, Editor, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

About the Author

David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Among his many books are Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography, which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Beneath the American Renaissance, winner of the Christian Gauss Award. A regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review, he lives in Old Westbury, New York.

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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An Introduction to Walt Whitman 27 Sept. 2005
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This year, 2005, marks the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass", the most influential work of poetry yet written in the United States. The event has been appropriately marked by new editions of Whitman, new studies, and by many conferences and celebrations to explore Whitman's legacy.

But the most fitting way to celebrate Whitman is to read or to reread him. David Reynolds's short biography, "Walt Whitman" (2005) breaks no new ground about its subject. Instead, in 154 pages it introduces the reader to the main facts of Whitman's life and to the many themes that appear in his poetry and prose works. It is a good introduction for those readers wishing some background before beginning a study of Whitman. David Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. This book is largely a distillation of Professor Reynolds's longer study "Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography" (1995).

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) had little formal education. He held a variety of jobs as a newspaper editor and writer before publishing his masterpiece, the first edition of "Leaves of Grass" in 1855. This work set forth a vision of a United States based upon pluralism, egalitarianism, a kind of secularized and ecumenical mysticism, and acceptance of one's sexuality that many readers, myself included, still find deeply inspiring. Whitman largely fulfilled the goal he set himself of setting forth the ideals of the United States in poetic form. The free verse he developed in "Leaves of Grass" changed dramatically the structure and technique of subsequent poetry.

Professor Reynolds's study opens with a brief chapter on Whitman's life. The remaining six chapters of the book discuss themes and influences important to Whitman and to the understanding of his work. Professor Reynolds offers vivid but brief pictures of the New York City of Whitman's day, of Whitman's interest in oratory, the theater, and music, both popular and classical. Professor Reynolds describes Whitman's interest in the new medium of photography and in art. There is a discussion of Whitman's religious and philosophical views and of his dream of a secular, ecumenical, yet personal faith. We see Whitman's interests in phrenology, spiritualism, and, later in life, in the religions of the East. There is a chapter on Whitman's attitudes towards sexuality -- a subject much explored which receives only a limited treatment here -- and a chapter on Whitman's reverence for Lincoln and on his services during the Civil War as a nurse. The themes of each chapter are illustrated with appropriate short quotations from Whitman's prose and poetry.

I think Whitman's importance lies in his poetic expression of the democratic ideal, his commitment to nonsectarian religion, and to his recognition of the force of sexuality in human life which, interestingly, Whitman thought formed one of the bases of democracy. The Nobel-Prize winning author J.M. Coetzee has recently written that "the most attractive feature of Whitman's dreamed-of United States is that it does not demand of its citizens the sublimation of eros in the interest of the state." (New York Review, September 22, 2005, p. 22) Reynolds's book will introduce the reader to these aspects of Whitman's work.

Reynolds's book will have served its purpose if in encourages readers to visit or revisit Whitman. For those readers wanting to do so, I recommend the outstanding edition of Whitman's poetry and major prose works in the Library of America series.

Robin Friedman
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
An excellent introduction 24 Dec. 2004
By Reader 100 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Picking up David S. Reynolds' WALT WHITMAN armed with almost total ignorance of the poet, I was satisfied in finishing that I had gained a good grounding in Whitman's life, times, and work. The first chapter, a brief biography, lays the foundation for those that follow on Whitman's art and his response to, among other things, war, sex, and science. Annoyingly there are four typographical errors within its 138 pages of text, but WALT WHITMAN nevertheless succeeds marvelously in providing scholarly content to the generalist in a crisp, well-organized style.
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